Cows, Grass and Tracks - Lancashire Grazing Group ReportThursday 28 February 2013
As a very welcome spring draws nearer and attention turns towards getting the cows out, it seemed like a good time to get the grazing group together to discuss a variety of topics.
So to keep the meeting fresh and fast-paced we invited three different speakers along to share their knowledge with the group and to generate some discussion among the farmers as to what what works well for them.
Breeding the right cows
DairyCo’s Andy Dodd was first up with his presentation on crossbreeding and breeding the right cows for a grass based dairy system. The main take-home points from his presentation were:
- Have a structured breeding plan – look ahead to where you want to be in 10 years and what sort of cows you want. Identify strengths and weaknesses in your herd using factual information (milk records, culling data, mobility scores) and then select the best bulls to breed for the traits you want to improve.
- Make sure you are happy with the breed (or breeds) you choose – there is no right or wrong breed, it is all down to personal preference and breeding the right cows for your system. Don’t just pick the breed of the moment, think about what sort of cows you want to milk. Only you can set your own breeding goals.
- Crossbreeding can be a useful tool to help reduce in-breeding and to combine breed qualities from different breeds. In addition by crossing two breeds you will benefit from hybrid vigour, and the more breeds you cross the greater the benefits of hybrid vigour. However if you are going down the route of the 4-way cross you must ensure that you choose four different breeds that you are happy with. However it must be remembered that crossbreeding is not a quick-fix solution for all your problems and will not compensate for management issues.
Choosing the best varieties
Next up was Helen Mathieu from British Seed Houses speaking about new grass varieties and the best varieties to choose for grazing. In terms of spring growth diploids and tetraploids produce similar quantities and quality. However in order to extend your grazing season as long as possible diploids will produce much better autumn growth and better ground cover. However if you are looking for a seed more suited to overseeding/slot-seeding a field then a tetraploid may be a better option as the seeds are bigger and so quicker to establish.
Tracks and grazing
Barry Ward from LIC (Livestock Improvement Corporation) was the final speaker in the line-up. Barry has experience of working with groups of grazing farmers in other parts of the country and used this knowledge to talk about the components of successful grazing systems and predominantly cow tracks. The main points raised were:
- Block calving is the best option for serious grazers – it allows a total focus on fertility over a short period of time and brings a discipline to the farming system in keeping the calving period tight.
- Good tracks are essential to graze grass. Regular maintenance is vital to keep the tracks in good working order as daily use by a herd of cows causes huge wear and tear.
- Bark is a relatively cheap option for track material but it will only last for a maximum of 5 years and needs good regular management.
- It is vital that water can get away quickly and easily from a track – make sure that track has a good crown to ensure that water does not stand and that the edge of the track are kept clear of vegetation to allow the water to escape. Also keep tracks away from hedges where possible as this will shade the track and prevent drying.
- Surface material should be durable but soft on the feet – if you are able to walk along a track in your bare feet then it is soft enough for cows! Astroturf has been used on some farms to successfully achieve this soft surface.
- Tracks constructed from concrete sleepers are quick to lay and can be moved more easily if needed. However they must be kept clean and swept regularly to prevent any sharp stones which can penetrate cows hooves.
- Have multiple entry points to paddocks to avoid wet gateways.
- Don’t let your cow tracks double up as machinery tracks as this will drag stones onto the surface and cause more wear. You can avoid this by constructing your cow tracks too narrow to allow a tractor to travel on them.
The group also discussed a few general points about how to get the most out of grazing and Barry summarised this in a few key points:
a) Spring grass is the most valuable for grazing
b) Paddocks should be shut up for winter with no more than 2700kg DM/ha cover, if it is greater than this spring growth will be restricted. Conversely if cover is less that 2000 and paddocks are overgrazed late in the season it will negatively affect spring growth.
c) Aim for 100 cows/acre/day to graze a paddock to its optimum with cows being on the same paddock no more than 48 hours. As soon as a paddock has been grazed down take the cows out as backgrazing will restrict future regrowth.
d) Grass growth rate will double as soon as a paddock is grazed after being shut up for winter.
e) If you don’t measure grass growth then you can’t manage it!